Although the full House hasn’t acted on its pipeline safety re-authorization legislation yet, a leading Department of Transportation (DOT) official said she is confident that the bill will clear Congress this year.

“Congress understands the urgency of passing the pipeline safety reauthorization, and I am optimistic that it will happen before the end of the year,” said Cynthia L. Quarterman, administrator of DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), during a conference sponsored by the Pipeline Safety Trust in New Orleans Friday.

While the full Senate passed its pipeline safety bill (S. 275) in mid-October, two House committees — House Transportation and Infrastructure (HR 2845) and House Energy and Commerce (HR 2937) — are still working to combine their bills into one measure to be sent to the floor (see Daily GPI, Oct. 19; Sept. 9).

In the meantime, Quarterman said PHMSA is not sitting on its hands. “We have…sought to raise awareness of pipelines through a cooperative agreement with the National Association of State Fire Marshals. The training curriculum for the emergency response community, ‘Pipeline Emergencies — 2nd Edition,’ was recently updated. The training has been used with over 45,000 emergency responders in the U.S.,” she said.

Also on Dec. 9, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is scheduled to host, along with the National Association of State Pipeline Safety Representatives and the U.S. Fire Administration, a pipeline emergency response forum at DOT headquarters in Washington, DC. The forum will address issues identified in several recent pipeline incidents where firefighters and other emergency responders did not have the information they needed to prepare for and respond to natural gas and hazardous liquid pipeline emergencies. The forum will be webcast.

PHMSA is taking the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) recommendations on the San Bruno [CA] tragedy “very seriously and plan[s] to be responsive to them,” Quarterman said. “We have already taken actions to address some of the factors that caused or contributed to the accident, but we have our work cut out for us.

“Unfortunately there is no silver bullet that exists to prevent such accidents from occurring, and as much as I might like to have the authority to make the changes recommended by the NTSB happen overnight, we do not have that authority. The NTSB has set a high bar for us purposefully…They have told us that their goal is to drive industry to create technological solutions where none may currently exist. They also noted that implementing their recommendations would be a big lift,” she told conference attendees.

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